The University of the Free State’s (UFS) School of Biomedical Sciences has introduced a cardiac simulation laboratory to its clinical simulation and skills unit.

The state-of-the-art technology is expected to revolutionise the way cardiac surgeons and other health professionals are trained and assessed.

“There’s nothing like this in Africa, and only a few in the world,” said Head of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the Faculty of Health Sciences, Prof Francis Smit.

“This is 100% real. As a senior registrar at the Cardiothoracic Department I’ve done similar procedures on real patients and there’s really no difference at all. Every registrar should do this before ever touching a real body,” said Dr Taha Gwila, after successfully completing his first simulation session.

The simulation facilities give students with various levels of competency the opportunity to practice specific procedures in their own time and at their own pace. The ‘patient’ is a rubberised model complete with a network of pipes accurately exhibiting the vascular system and a pulsating heart of a pig.

“Traditionally training followed the apprentice model, where surgeons started with simple tasks and worked their way up. They assisted senior personnel and their exposure to procedures depended on the conditions presented by the patients before them,” said Prof Smit.

The simulation technology now enables them to repeatedly practise a certain procedure without any risk to a patient. A sophisticated electronic grading system gives detailed feedback after each session, so they know in which areas to improve.

The system also allows trainers to create a medical emergency that the trainees then have to deal with.

“Assisting senior surgeons with high levels of competency means that in the past, trainees would often never get the chance to experience these kinds of complications during operating procedures. Now we give them a chance to build that confidence so they’ll be able to handle different situations,” said Prof Smit.

The UFS cardiothoracic programme is being designed to become a training hub for the whole of Southern Africa, combining distance learning with an on-site high-fidelity simulation and assessment centre.

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